The Slow Years: Productive vs. Fruitful
We were wrapping up the Q&A session after my talk at an online writer’s conference. The recording had already stopped and I relaxed and stretched my legs under my desk as the moderator asked me to field a final question.
It was one I’m asked frequently: How do you find time to write?
Normally I would have talked about schedules, or making appointments with myself, or finding pockets of time. Normally I would have stressed how important it was to make space for what’s important.
But for some reason that day I heard myself say something different.
“For fifteen years,” I said, “I didn’t write anything.”
I let that sink in for a moment and then described how the first decade and a half of marriage found me raising a houseful of young children and trying to keep my head above water. But—I was reading a lot. I was praying. I was loving. I was living my vocation.
“It was a fruitful time, but it was not productive. Some seasons are like that.” I didn’t plan on saying more. Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity in the comment thread, asking me to elaborate on the difference between productivity and fruitfulness in the writing life.
“Productivity,” I mused, “is getting things done. It is checking the boxes; it is finishing the article or essay or chapter. It is submitting the book proposal or making the pitch or meeting with the editor.”
I leaned forward on my desk. “Fruitfulness is slow and unseen work. It is absorbing and growing. It is healing. It is learning. It is becoming the woman who will write the book someday.”
The moderator sighed. “I wish we were still recording,” she lamented.
I felt it too - the sense that the Holy Spirit was driving home something incredibly important in that moment. Maybe, I thought, everything else I’ve said today was actually for the sake of this point.
It is a distinction important not just for writers but for all of us who have wondered if we are doing enough—especially in a culture which celebrates accomplishments, wins, and time management geared toward “getting things done.’ Let’s face it. Growing up and going deep rarely includes crossing things off a list.
And I do love a to-do list with lots of lines through it! The seasons that are ultimately the most fruitful often feel in the moment to be the most frustrating. I’ve certainly experienced that sense of futility.
But those seasons of becoming—those cannot be sped-up or skipped over. They are the most important seasons.
Those seasons are transformative times of deep, thick grace. They are dripping with slowness.
I’ll say this for all the frustrated writers out there, or anyone whose creativity feels stifled and stagnant in a life with lots of limitations: Leaning into the lessons of the present moment—of suffering, and sacrificing, of putting yourself last in order to give life to others, of staying put where God has you and letting the roots go deep—those will make you the person who will have something to say when the time comes to say it, the person who will have a story to tell and the perspective to tell it with wisdom and healthy detachment.
Timing really is everything.
And the Lord who “has set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) invites us to a posture of patient expectance and to keep our eyes on eternal rewards.
“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire,” said St. Catherine of Siena. The part we often miss, though, is that ‘being’ that person necessitates knowing who God meant us to be. It means becoming that person, being healed and whole and wholly ourselves. That’s not a quick process. And it is definitely not a productive one.
So here’s to the slow years, the years that feel barren when we want life to feel flourishing. When others are crushing goals and breaking ceilings, we will find solace in the fact that our ‘becoming’ years are making it possible for us to bear fruit that will last.
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